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Keep Your Enemies Closer: Aston Villa

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Newcastle United face Aston Villa this Sunday in a rematch of the 6-0 drubbing Newcastle gave Villa at St James' Park way back in August.  I sat down with Aaron Campeau, one of the writers for 7500 to Holte, SB Nation's Aston Villa blog, and we exchanged some questions and answers to help each other and our readers understand our opponents a little better.  His answers to my questions follow the jump.  My responses haven't been posted over there yet (my fault), but when they are, I'll link to it here.

UPDATE: The other half has been posted at 7500 to Holte.

Follow the jump for Aaron Campeau's views on Gerard Houllier, the possibility of relegation, and what he thinks about this week's match.

1) I'm sure you've heard this before, but Aston Villa reminds me a bit of the Newcastle team of two years ago that was relegated, in that a lot of people seemed to think they were "too good" to be sent down.  How confident are you that AV can avoid the drop?  How plausible do you think Gerard Houllier's stated goal of 10 points in the last 7 games is?

Reasonably confident, I suppose, but that Newcastle team is a haunting, vile specter that just won't go away. The talent is almost certainly there where the attack is concerned; Bent, Young, Downing, Albrighton and Agbonlahor are players capable of leading a club to the Champions League. Jean Makoun is also legitimately world-class, having earned 54 caps for Cameroon and appearing 76 times for Lyon. The problems are in defense. What was one of the best back lines in  the Premier League last season has become a massive liability, and while I feel that the talent in-house is more than eenough to keep Villa safe the defense has been so God-awful that I'm confident in saying so.

2) Speaking of Houllier, it seems that every time I turn around, I see a Villan jumping ship on him.  Are there any Houllier backers left?  Do you want him back next year, even if he achieves survival?
I have my issues with Houllier, but I think that I'd have my issues no matter what manager was in charge and despite my questioning some of his tactical decisions I'm a fan of the general direction in which he is moving the club. In general, I think that sports fans are kind of dumb and they're going to ignore the bigger picture whenever it allows them to be angry, so the reaction of the fans hasn't been all that surprising.

3) It looks from afar like Darren Bent might be rounding into form.  What has been your impression of his brief stay thus far?

He's done okay. Darren Bent isn't a complete forward and he's never going to create his own opportunities, and the supply has been fairly lacking for the most part. It was there in the Bolton game and Bent made a mess of things, but that's going to happen every now and again. The results haven't been what was expected, but Bent isn't a concern for me; he's a fantastic player and he'll be just fine.

4) Give us a relatively under-the-radar player that can have a positive impact on this match for Villa.

Nigel Reo-Coker does a lot of things that aren't particularly glamorous, but they're important. He wins balls, mixes things up with the opposing forwards, runs like hell and just generally creates havoc. He's certainly not the world's most polished player and he does his fair share in terms of driving me crazy, but he's a damned fine player and this is the kind of game on which he can have a massive impact. 

5) What needs to happen for your side to come away with three points on Sunday?

Villa has got to, got to, got to lock things down in extra time and sit on a lead should they find themselves in the situation to do so. Villa has been able to compete in almost every game this season but they've let three points become one and one point become zero far too often. There's plenty of fight there at least in terms of the front seven, but the focus has a tendency to slip and it's cost them quite a bit this season.

6) What would be your ideal Starting XI given all of your available players?  What XI do you expect Houllier to field?  Also, feel free to give us a prediction if you like.

Ideal: (3-4-3)

Friedel; Clark, Collins, Cuellar; Downing, Makoun, Reo-Coker, Albrighton; Agbonlahor, Bent, Young

Assumed: (4-2-3-1)

Friedel; Walker, Collins, Dunne, L Young; Makoun, Petrov; Downing, Young, Albrighton; Bent


I honestly have no idea what to expect from this team and I'm just tired of it. If they show up, and the defense strives to achieve the level of mediocre, there;s enough talent up top that a 4-2 Villa win wouldn't surprise me. Or they could get all anti-football and pull out a 1-0. Or they could fall apart and give up a 2--0, or drop a 'thriller' 5-3. I don't know. This team has genuinely killed my intellectual curiosity and it's almost a given that no matter what happens I'm going to be annoyed.